Musical Therapy

I am grateful for a great many things in my life. Hopefully, I am doing a good enough job communicating my gratitude throughout the year so I'm not one of those jerks who saves it all up for an obligatory "thank you" message on Thanksgiving Day. Yet I am still abounding in reasons to be thankful - perhaps more this year than I have in a long time.

As I look back over the past few months, the days I am most thankful to have lived are the days surrounded by music (or at least talks about music). There were conversations with a coworker or a friend from my small group about our favorite songs. There were days spent with the worship band at church as they rehearsed and laughing together in the green room. There was an afternoon providing the background music for a company party. And there are so many moments where I have caught my kids singing along with the car stereo or hearing my daughter singing to herself words from songs that I grew up with hours after the music stopped playing. These moments fill me with immense joy.

I wholly believe that music is therapeutic. There have been numerous studies to support the fact drum patterns and musical accompaniment have beneficial neurological effects. Reports have shown music in education help kids be better students in traditional academics. You can easily find a plethora of anecdotal evidence of music being a source of motivation, of being a mood stabilizer, of inspiring and uniting and strengthening people everywhere.

Then, on a day when I needed to see it most, my brother posted this on facebook.

On that day, I engaged in my favorite form of therapy. I plugged in some headphones, shut out the outside world, and for the next hour and a half I allowed the melodies, harmonies, tempos, lyrics, and rhythms to heal my wounds.

In case you're looking for something similar, here are my therapists from that afternoon.

Bottom of the River by Delta Rae
Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars
Take Me to Church by Hozier
Fading West by Switchfoot
Not Alone by Matt and Kim
We Come Running by Youngblood Hawke
Anna Sun by Walk the Moon
Bodies by Savoir Adore
Tongue Tied by Grouplove
Divisionary (Do the Right Thing) by Ages and Ages
Just Kids by Mat Kearney
Renegades by X Ambassadors
Major Tom (Coming Home) by Shiny Toy Guns
Safe and Sound by Capital Cities
Young Blood by The Naked and Famous
We Don't Believe What's On TV by Twenty One Pilots
In the Shadows by The Rasmus
Excited Eyes by The Notionaries
Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men
Seattle by The Classic Crime
I Like To Be With Me When I'm With You by Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors
Down There by Bronze Radio Return
Train Song by Listener
The Outsiders by Needtobreathe
Life Goes On by Pigeon John
I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers
Walk This Way by MØ
Little Secrets by Passion Pit
L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N by Noah and the Whale

30 songs and I felt whole again. Revived and ready to take on the world.


Not Afraid

We live in an ugly world. It is filled with broken people who have a penchant for cruelty. After the headlines of last weekend, I have seen a few common emotional reactions. Anger. Sadness. Fear.

The anger is evident. If you listen closely you can probably hear war drums pounding. It is hard to skim through social media without seeing a vitriolic rant about governments not doing enough to stop terrorist attacks or calls to nuke the Middle East until it glows. Both French and American militaries have engaged in bombing strikes over ISIS controlled land. So, yes, you could be angry. But I don't want to be one of those people. There is enough anger out there without my contribution.

Sadness makes sense to me and feels like the most Christian response. After all, the Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn. Sorrow should be the most natural answer to the loss of life on a monumental scale.

Then there is fear. Fear that the worst might happen and it could happen to you. Isn't that the purpose of terrorism? To make people scared? It's not worth the effort. We may be swimming in currents of emotion but I refuse to be swept away by an undertow of fear.

I am not afraid.

Yes, I realize that I am a member of a culture and society that ISIS hates. I am not afraid. I know that they have threatened our nation's capital. I am not afraid. I am aware that extremist groups are encouraging homegrown militants to attack cities from a kill list which includes the nearby communities of Bonners Ferry, Spokane, and Airway Heights. I am not afraid. I recognize domestic terrorists (people like Timothy McVeigh, Richard Butler, and Dylann Roof) are a greater and more probable risk to my life than any foreign jihadist. I am not afraid.

Even if a suicide bomber were to walk into my neighborhood, my office, my church, my bank, my favorite coffee shop, or anywhere I happen to be at that given moment - I am not afraid.

Because I believe in a God who promised to never leave or forsake His people. A God who told us not to fear anything because He is with us. A God who gave us power, love, and self control instead of fear. A God whose love casts out all fear. If this God is for us - if he is on our side - then nothing can stand against us.

The writers of the Bible had reason to be afraid. The Israelites, fled from a life of slavery. They battled against vastly superior military powers. King David led Israel into a time of peace but was first hunted down by a murderous madman before he could take the throne. After him, the kingdom suffered generations of ineffective leadership and were eventually conquered by a neighboring superpower. By the time Jesus came along, the nation of Israel had fallen under the dictatorial rule of Rome. The first Christians faced threats of torture, imprisonment, and execution under the Roman government. Yet these people were the first audiences to hear God's repetitive command: do not be afraid.

What makes us think we're different? What makes us think we're special? What makes us think that ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, or al-Qaeda are more deserving of our fear than of the Philistines or Pharaoh's, Nebuchadnezzar's, and Caesar's armies? Are they greater than the tyrants who oppressed the Israelites and the early church? If God commanded His people to be fearless while they were facing the most fearsome conquerors of ancient times - why wouldn't that same order apply to us? If we consider ourselves to still be God's people, what do we have to fear?

We must realize that the greatest weapons in our fight against terror are not methods of modern warfare. Our enemies are undeserving of our rage or our terror. Our best response would be to live our lives as we wish. To combat terrorism, we must fight with bravery and boldness on the homefront. Every western citizen living with love, kindness, generosity, and fortitude will conquer terrorism quicker and more definitively than a barrage of drone strikes and xenophobia. We need nations to collectively declare: We are not afraid. We will not be shaken.


Meanwhile, outside my apartment

The top of this tree ...

... is now here.

And just a little further south, a tree came down on one of the garage units. All in all, it could have been worse.


And yet there's hope

Friday the 13th might be Jason Voorhees' favorite day of the year, but this last weekend it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It was a day of violence, bloodshed, and discord.

Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times.

Like many of you, I spent Friday evening reading through various news accounts and scrolling through the #Paris trending topic on Twitter. I wrestled with the questions of how to explain such evil and destruction to my kids. How do you describe holy war, suicide bombings, and hate so powerful that it would willingly terminate the lives of hundreds of people in less time than it would take to drink an eggnog latte from a solid red Starbucks holiday cup? How can you possibly make sense of such tragedies in a form understood by an eleven your old who thinks everyone deserves to be loved regardless of who they are, how they look, or what they believe?

When he asked, "Why would anyone ever do something like that?" he demonstrated a special kind of wisdom only kids possess. It takes a childlike sense of wonder to see the world as it should be and not as it is. This youthful wisdom views the world as vibrant and filled with infinite possibilities. Human depravity and the capability to cause unfathomable atrocities does not fit into such optimistic world views.

Reality knows there are answers to my son's question. But none of them are good answers. None of the answers are logical. No amount of reasoning can justify the actions of these jihadists. For that, I am thankful. I am glad my son can see the worst humanity has to offer and still refuse any explanation as acceptable.

My heart is broken for the city of Paris. And not just for the French people, but also for the victims of Friday's bombings in Beirut and Baghdad.

However, I also feel hopeful. If my son wields the maturity to reject the lure of hate that has trapped and consumed so many people, then there must be more kids like him. And if there are other kids like him, then there are parents like me. We are raising children who believe in the power of peace and everyone's right to live.

These kids are our next generation. If we can nurture these better aspects of their nature, they will change the world. We could raise an army to drown out these voices of discontent - not with guns or warfare but with love and respect.


Now that gives me hope.


Need a break?

My friend Charles is taking a break from writing his blog so that he can focus his efforts on NaNoWriMo. In order to take that break, he's enlisted the help of people like me to create content for him. As soon as I heard what he was doing, I knew exactly what I needed to write about - how important it is for us to take a break every now and then.

This isn't the first time I've written a guest post for him, and hopefully it won't be the last. Hop on over to SecondIron and enjoy some thoughts about rest and an obscure Bible story from the book of Acts. Take a Break. Tell Charles "Hi" and wish him luck on his novel.


The Outsiders

They are everywhere. Outcasts. Human aliens. Out-shined and overshadowed. People who feel like they don't fit in, don't belong.

It could be a matter of financial or social status. It could be the result of personality or disposition. We could be held back by physical or mental health issues. Whatever the cause, there are people everywhere who feel like they are not accepted and that no one understands them.

As I've studied the bible and listened to podcasts from notable pastors and leaders in Christian thought, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: the church should be a place where these outcasts feel welcomed and accepted.

Consider this: most of the bible was written by authors under the rule of brutal empires: the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans. The people who composed God's word were not victors. They were not the cool kids. The bible was written by oppressed people.

The Jews fleeing Egypt: outsiders.
Jeremiah and many of the prophets: misfits.
The disciples: rebels.
John of Patmos: an outcast.

It is under the shadow of a tyrant where the Christian church was founded. It flourished in a time when they were hunted, tortured, and executed. It shunned Jewish traditions and defied Roman rulers. The first Christians were a motley bunch of weirdos. They were radicals who didn't fit in anywhere else than with each other. They built a community for others who felt misplaced in society.

Sadly, the modern church is not as welcoming. In many houses of worship, strangers get the sense that there is an unspoken code of conduct to be followed for admission. The way you act, the way you dress, the way you sing, the food you eat. If you want to be one of His, you got to act like one of us.

The church was never meant to function like this. We were never supposed to strut around like the in-crowd or wrestle to be the dominant political power. We were designed in God's image - a God who heard the cry of the broken and hurting and was moved to act on their behalf. We were made to be a refuge for those who have nowhere else to go.

We have lost our way but we can go back.

Perhaps I'm biased. Maybe this is my love for fellow freaks and geeks speaking out. I believe the modern church needs a cultural shift. We need to declare that we are the outsiders. We need to find other outsiders and let them know we know those feels.

What if we fully lived what we believe? What if we were hope for the hopeless? What if we could offer freedom to those who feel trapped or oppressed? What if we were a safe shelter for outcasts? What if we were a place where those who feel like they don't belong could finally call home? What if we gave the misfits a place to fit in?

Sure, we say we all ready do those things, but do we? It might be the ideal we strive for, but we have a long way to go. We get it wrong far more than we get it right.

Full disclosure: I don't know how to make this a reality on a grand scale. I don't have any clue how to change the tide of religious culture in America. Yet I believe it can be done. And why not? I have learned to embrace my weirdness and I have done it in a local church that has also embraced my weirdness. If you want to talk about being an outcast, about not fitting in, that has been the story of my life.

If an oddball like me can find a place to belong within the church, I know there is a place for other nerds out there too.